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Archive for MS Issues

Raoul Vaneigem: The Other Situationist

Jason McQuinn

 

(Note: The following essay was written as an introduction to the 2012 LBC Books edition of the 1983 Donald Nicholson-Smith translation of Traité de savoir-vivre à l’usage des jeunes générations under the new title of Treatise on Etiquette for the Younger Generations.)

 

Raoul Vaneigem’s Treatise on Etiquette for the Younger Generations has, despite its epochal importance, often been overshadowed by Guy Debord’s equally significant Society of the Spectacle. And Vaneigem himself, along with his wider insurrectionary and social-revolutionary contributions, has too often also been overshadowed by Debord’s very successfully self-promoted mystique. As a result Vaneigem’s contributions have been rather consistently underappreciated when not at times intentionally minimized or even ignored. However, there are good reasons to take Vaneigem and his Treatise more seriously.

The Situationist myth

A half-century ago in 1967 two related books appeared, authored by then-obscure members of the Situationist International (hereafter, the SI). Each has made its permanent mark on the world. On the one side, a slim but dense book, The Society of the Spectacle,¹ appeared under the authorship of one Guy Debord – an avant-garde film-maker, but more importantly the principle theorist and organizer from its earliest days of the tiny “International” of curiously-named “Situationists.” On the other side, a how-to book on living “for the younger generations,” describing a surprisingly combative “radical subjectivity” in extravagant and often poetic language. The latter was originally entitled Traité de savoir-vivre à l’usage des jeunes générations, but was initially translated into English as The Revolution of Everyday Life,² appearing under the authorship of Raoul Vaneigem. Both books exemplified a savagely critical and creatively artistic, historical and theoretical erudition rare among the usual offerings of the then still new New Left. But stylistically the books could hardly have been more different, though they ostensibly argue for the same end: inspiring the creation of a social revolution which would both destroy capitalism and realize art in everyday life!

“In a society that has abolished every kind of adventure the only adventure that remains is to abolish that society.”

Only a short year later the anarchistic (though fairly incoherent) March 22nd Movement and the charismatic “Danny the Red” (Daniel Cohn-Bendit), along with a small group of more coherently-radical, reinvented Enragés (who were protégés of the SI), helped incite spreading student protests, initially from the University of Paris at Nanterre to the Sorbonne, and then throughout France. A protest that soon led to the tumultuous – now semi-mythical – “May Days” as student strikes and street protests were amplified by a huge wave of wildcat strikes that became a general strike and severely threatened the stability of the Gaullist regime. Situationist themes more and more frequently appeared in this social ferment. They were expressed not only in SI books and pamphlets, but most importantly through increasingly widespread graffiti, posters, occupations and other interventions. “Power to the imagination.” “Never work.” “Boredom is counterrevolutionary.” “Live without dead time.” “Occupy the factories.” “It is forbidden to forbid.” “In a society that has abolished every kind of adventure the only adventure that remains is to abolish that society.” “I take my desires for reality because I believe in the reality of my desires.” “Under the paving stones, the beach.” Wherever one looked the SI’s slogans were urging the rebellion forward! While most other supposedly “radical” groups were peddling the same old (or the same old “new”) leftist lines and rituals which usually, like the Stalinists in the French Communist Party, amounted to urging restraint and respect for their leaderships. Or at most, the urging of politically-correct, “responsible” agitation, respecting the limits of directly democratic procedures which tolerated the inclusion of Leninists, Trotskyists, Stalinists, Maoists and liberal reformists of all types, guaranteeing their incoherent impotence.

Only hints of social revolution were really ever in sight during the May Days, despite the recurring waves of violent street demonstrations and the widespread students’ and workers’ occupations that culminated in the massive (but in the end, frustratingly passive) general strike across France. However, even hints of social revolution are never taken lightly, as otherwise sober governing bureaucrats began to panic, and at least the thought of revolution began to be taken seriously by the general population. A survey immediately following the events indicated that 20% of the French population would have participated in a “revolution,” while 33% would have opposed a “military intervention.”³ Charles De Gaulle even fled at one point for safety in Germany before returning to France once he had ensured the backing of the French military. These hints of revolution were especially powerful when much of the world was watching while experiencing its own various waves of anti-war protest, constant student and worker unrest, and a creative cultural contestation that at the time (throughout the 1960s at least) had as yet no very clear limits. Then it all quickly evaporated with the excuse of new national elections welcomed by all the major powers of the old world in France: the Gaullists, the Communist and Socialist parties, the established unions, etc.

As it turned out, in the 1960s most people in France, like most people around the world, were not ready for social revolution, though a few of the more radical of the French anarchists, the Enragés and the Situationists had made a decent effort to move their world in that direction. In the end, neither the more radical of the anarchists nor the Enragés and Situationists proved to be up to the task. And the historic trajectory of radical activities through the ensuing half century is still grappling with the question of just what it will take. But it remains hard to argue that, among those who even tried, it wasn’t the Situationists who were able to take the highest ground in those heady May Days in 1968.

The Situationist Reality

The Situationist International, created in 1957, was a grouping of various artists from a number of tendencies – influenced by Dada, Surrealism and the Lettrists – who to one degree or another wished to suppress art as a specialized activity and realize art in everyday life. The group published a journal titled Internationale Situationiste from its beginning, founded by Guy Debord, who was the dominant (and sometimes domineering) personality within the organization. At first, the Situationist emphasis was largely a continuation of the radical Lettrist investigations into filmmaking, psychogeography4 and unitary urbanism,5 including the development of a theory and practice of creating situations, in conjunction with the practice of dérive (unplanned drifting, following the influences of one’s environment) and détournement (a practice of subversive diversion, reversal or recontextualization of commoditized cultural elements). But the membership changed frequently, sometimes drastically, over the life of the organization with exclusions and denunciations becoming far more the rule than the exception. And with the changes in membership came changes in emphasis and direction. Of the original founders only Debord himself was left at the dismal end.6

Fairly early on there was an increasing split between those pushing more and more to radicalize the organization under the leadership of Debord (who after 1959 abandoned his own filmmaking for the duration), and those who intended to continue functioning as radically subversive, but still practicing, artists – like the Danish painter and sculptor Asger Jorn, his brother Jørgen Nash, the Dutch painter and (hyper-) architect Constant Nieuwenhuys. The radical artists regrouped in a number of directions, including around Jacqueline de Jong’s Situationist Times, published from 1962-1964 (in 6 issues), and Jørgen Nash’s Situationist Bauhaus project, not to mention their influence on the Dutch Provo movement. The poetic-artistic radicals, on the other hand, continued the SI itself under the influence of Debord’s developing synthesis of Marxism and Lettrism. (Of note, a central player, Asger Jorn, left the SI in 1961. But as a good friend of Debord who continued to fund the SI, as well as being the companion of Jacqueline de Jong and brother of Jørgen Nash, his loyalties remained divided.) It was during and after the development of these original splits and the redirection of the SI that Raoul Vaneigem (in 1961) and most of the other non-artist radicals – including Mustapha Khayati, René Viénet,7 René Riesel8 and Gianfranco Sanguinetti9 – signed on to the project.

From its beginning the Situationist International fully embraced a practice of scathing critique and scandalous subversions. And at the same time, initially through the impetus of Guy Debord, the SI at least attempted to incorporate and integrate many of the more radical social ideas of the time into its critical theory. Before the SI appeared, the Lettrists had already become notorious for the blasphemous 1950 Easter Mass preaching the death of God at the Cathedral of Notre Dame by ex-seminary student Michel Mourre.10 The subsequently-organized Lettrist International (including Debord) launched its own little blasphemous attack on the aging cinema icon Charlie Chaplin in 1952, interrupting his press conference by scattering leaflets titled “No More Flat Feet.” By the time the SI had settled on its final radical trajectory, explosive events like the 1966-67 Strasbourg scandal – which culminated in the funding and distribution of 10,000 copies of Mustapha Khayati’s Situationist attack On the Poverty of Student Life11 by the University of Strasbourg Student Union – were inevitable. The massive SI graffiti, postering and publishing campaigns from March through May of 1968 can be seen as the culmination of this line of attack.

At the same time, the SI’s exploration, incorporation and integration of scandalously radical social theory paralleled its practice of subversive scandal. Although the backbone of Situationist theory remained Marxist, it was at least a Marxism staunchly critical of Leninist, Trotskyist, Stalinist and Maoist ideology and bureaucracy, and a Marxism at least partially open to many of the more radical currents marginalized or defeated by the great Marxist-inspired counter-revolutions experienced around the world. Along with the avant-garde art movements like Dada and Surrealism, there was room for at least the mention of a diversity of anarchists and dissident non-Leninist Marxists, radical poets, lumpen terrorists, and even transgressive characters like Lautréamont and de Sade in the Situationist pantheon. It can be argued that it was the coupling of its penchant for scandalous incitements with its shift from experimental artistic practices to developing a more and more radically critical theory that made for whatever lasting success the SI attained. Certainly, the creatively subversive gestures without the radically critical theory, or the radically critical theory without the creatively subversive gestures would never have captured imaginations as did their serial combination and recombination. It should also be noted that although the SI obviously was not the creator of the May Days in 1968 France, the SI was the only organized group which had announced the possibility of events like these, and which was actively agitating for them before they occurred. Although some pronouncements by Debord and other Situationists, and some comments by enthusiastic “pro-situationists”12 after the fact sometimes bordered on megalomania, at least there were reasons for misjudgments about the SI’s actual effectiveness. They were not merely figments of imagination.

The SI theorists: Guy Debord or Raoul Vaneigem

That the two most important theorists of the SI were Guy Debord and Raoul Vaneigem is indisputable. Of what their contributions (and their relative values) consisted is another matter. At first, during the heat of the struggles in France the meanings of their contributions were generally considered to be so similar as not to require much analysis. However, it didn’t take long – especially after Vaneigem left the SI in 1970 – for divergent lines of interpretation to form and attributions or accusations of “Vaneigemism” and “Debordism” to begin flying in some quarters. The pro-Debordists tended to emphasize the over-riding importance of Marxism to the Situationist project, along with a resulting accompanying emphasis on sociological analysis and critique of class society – centering on Debord’s concept of the spectacle. It was also from this direction that most talk of Vaneigemism seems to have come (in fact, I have yet to come across anyone claiming to similarly criticize Debord based on any ideas or analyses from Vaneigem). The so-called “Vaneigemists” seem to be lumped into this category on the basis of an alleged tendency to see potential signs of total revolt in minor or partial refusals within everyday life,13 along with a resulting exaggeration of the potentialities of radical subjectivity for the construction of an intersubjective revolutionary subject. At its extreme, the argument equates radical subjectivity with attempts at narrowly “personal liberation” or even bourgeois egoism, implying that any true participation in the construction of a collective revolutionary subject demands the complete subordination of one’s personal life to a rationalist conception of revolution.14 While the former argument would seem to be largely a question of emphasis (just how important can refusals within everyday life actually be for potential social revolutionary upsurges in comparison to mass sociological factors), the latter appears to verge on the negation of most of what is distinctive and innovative within the Situationist project! At the least these conflicts reveal an underlying tension that was never resolved within the SI.

This underlying tension between the sociological and the personal, between the idea of a collective or social revolutionary project and a revolution of everyday life, still remains the central unresolved problem of the libertarian social revolutionary milieu to this day. (The impossibility of including and incorporating any critique of everyday life in the authoritarian, bureaucratic and inevitably unimaginative mainstream left is one major reason for its own steady decline.)

This underlying tension between the sociological and the personal, between the idea of a collective or social revolutionary project and a revolution of everyday life, still remains the central unresolved problem of the libertarian social revolutionary milieu to this day. (The impossibility of including and incorporating any critique of everyday life in the authoritarian, bureaucratic and inevitably unimaginative mainstream left is one major reason for its own steady decline.) The unfinished synthesis and critique of the SI is just one of many unfinished syntheses and critiques which litter radical history from 1793 to 1848, from 1871 to the great revolutionary assaults of the 20th century in Mexico, Russia, Germany, Italy, China and Spain. Certainly, as Vaneigem argues in his Treatise, there has to have always been “an energy…locked up in everyday life which can move mountains and abolish distances.” Because it is never from purely sociological forces that revolutions spring. These forces themselves are mere abstract, symbolic formulations concealing the everyday realities, choices and activities of millions of unique individual persons in all their complexity and interwoven relationships.

Despite Guy Debord’s increasing fascination with the austere, rationalistic sociological theorization revealed in the Society of the Spectacle, his entire commitment to the critique of art and everyday life, and his genuine search for new forms of lived radical subversion guarantee a substantial understanding of the central importance of Vaneigem’s work for radical theory. Still, though I know of no libertarian radicals who deny the critical importance of Debord’s work, there remain plenty who minimize, or even denigrate, the importance of Vaneigem’s. What is it in Vaneigem’s poetic investigations of the insurrectionary and social revolutionary possibilities of refusal and revolt in everyday life that so threaten these would-be libertarians? Could it be that these supposedly radical libertarians – whether “social” anarchists or some form or other of non-orthodox Marxists – may not be so different from the decaying mainstream left as they imagine?

Whereas Debord used his Society of the Spectacle largely to update Lukácsian Marxism by elaborating the sociological connections between some of the more important aspects of modern capitalism,15 Vaneigem sought in his Treatise on Etiquette for the Younger Generations to elaborate the subjectively-experienced, phenomenal connections between most of these same aspects of capitalist society. In Society of the Spectacle this meant Debord focused on: description of contemporary capital developing new forms of commodity production and exchange, the increasing importance of consumption over production, the integration of the working class through new mechanisms of passive participation, particularly the development of spectacular forms of mediation – communication and organization, and the overarching integration of these new forms of production and exchange in a continually developing, self-reproducing sociological totality which he called “spectacular commodity society.” Vaneigem’s innovation is the systematic description of these same developments from the other side, the side of lived subjective experience in everyday life: phenomenal descriptions of humiliation, isolation, work, commodity exchange, sacrifice and separation he has himself undergone or suffered, which help readers interpret their own experiences similarly.

Raoul Vaneigem and the revolution of everyday life

Raoul Vaneigem’s Treatise was a first, exploratory 20th century attempt at the descriptive phenomenology of modern slavery and its refusal.16 Through the Treatise Vaneigem urged rebellion against this enslavement through the refusal of work and submission, along with the reappropriation of autonomous desire, play and festivity. This phenomenology of lived rebellion was soon played out in the protests, occupations, graffiti, and the general festivity of the 1968 Paris May Days – within mere months of its initial publication. This is what makes Vaneigem still exciting to read a half century later.

A look at the wide variety of the most popular slogans and graffiti from the May Days in Paris – the ones that captured people’s imagination and gave the period its magic – makes it hard to ignore the fact that the emotional power they expressed (and still express) was based primarily on the excitement of the new focus on changing everyday life. And that Vaneigem’s Treatise was probably their most common source. Largely gone were the old leftist slogans exhorting workers to sacrifice for the advancement of their class organizations, to put themselves at the service of their class leaders, or to build a new society by helping class organizations take over management of the old one. Instead, people were exhorted to organize themselves directly on their own not only outside of the ruling organizations, but also outside of the pseudo-oppositional organizations of the left. And not with the relatively abstract political goal of building systems of Socialism or Communism, but with the here and now, practical goal of organizing their own life-activity with other rebels directly and without giving up their initiative and autonomy to representatives and bureaucrats.

This refusal of representation and bureaucracy, along with the emphasis on autonomous desire, play and festivity obviously has much more in common with the historical theory and practice of anarchists than with most Marxists. In fact, Marxists of the old left and the new will often be the first to point this out – and criticize it. But there still remains a surprisingly large area of crossover and cross-pollination between the multitude of creative, grass-roots movements, rebellions and uprisings within the broad libertarian milieu and some of the more libertarian-leaning of the minority traditions within Marxism. Of the latter, it was the council communists in particular, whose politics were largely adopted by the SI. And this is where the deep ambiguity of the SI is based. All of Marxism – including its dissenting minorities, and all of its myriad splinters, both mainstream and marginal – is fundamentally based upon the unavoidable sociological perspectives of species, society and class. All Marxism begins and ends with these abstractions. This is counter to the broad libertarian tradition, where actual people – with all their messy lives and struggles, hopes and dreams – are necessarily the center of theory and practice. This is the real “unbridgeable gap” – as the sectarians so love to put it. But it is between the ideologically-constructed, abstract subjectivity of reified concepts (like society and the proletariat) and the actual, phenomenal, lived subjectivity of people in revolt together. The SI was never able to overcome this divide. Nor was Vaneigem’s Treatise. But Vaneigem did make it farther than anyone else at the time in his text.

The only reason sociological investigations, analyses and theories can tell us anything beyond the most obvious banalities is the extent to which they reflect the dominant forms of enslavement in a society of modern slavery. “Scientific,” “objective” descriptions incorporating sociological explanations for mass human behavior depend upon predictable patterns of human action based upon broad social dictates of conduct, codified and enforced by institutions of domination.

If it hasn’t yet ever been made clear enough, then now is the time to finally put to rest the necessarily ideological nature of any and every reified collective subject, whether religious, liberal, Marxist, fascist or nationalist, reactionary or revolutionary. And this isn’t a question of adopting a methodological individualism over a methodological holism. One or the other may or may not be an appropriate choice for any particular specific investigation or analysis, depending upon one’s goals. But beginning with a reality defined in terms of an abstracted species, society or class makes no more sense than beginning with a reality defined in terms of abstract individuals. The only reason sociological investigations, analyses and theories can tell us anything beyond the most obvious banalities is the extent to which they reflect the dominant forms of enslavement in a society of modern slavery. “Scientific,” “objective” descriptions incorporating sociological explanations for mass human behavior depend upon predictable patterns of human action based upon broad social dictates of conduct, codified and enforced by institutions of domination. They are sociologies of mechanical human behavior. No significant, non-trivial sociology of autonomous self-activity is possible, since there is no possibility of predicting genuinely free, autonomous activity. This means that while Marxism may attempt to investigate, analyze and interpret human activity under the institutions of modern slavery – using scientific, dialectical or any other semi-logical means – it can tell us very little of any detailed significance about what the abolition of capital and state might actually look like. And to the extent that Marxist ideologies demand any particular forms, stages or means of struggle they will always necessarily make the wrong demands. Because the only right forms, stages and means of struggle are those chosen by people in revolt constructing their own methods. Council communism, as a form of Marxism, is not essentially different from the other ideologies of social democracy on this score. Nor, for that matter, are all the various ideological variations of anarchism struggling for an increased share in the ever-shrinking leftist-militant market.

Vaneigem himself understands to a great degree what is at stake here. This is one major reason Vaneigem’s text still inspires anarchists around the world. And the reason we decided to serialize the original translation of his Treatise in Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed back in the ‘80s. As he explains in his introduction:
“ From now on the struggle between subjectivity and what degrades it will extend the scope of the old class struggle. It revitalizes it and makes it more bitter. The desire to live is a political decision. We do not want a world in which the guarantee that we will not die of starvation is bought by accepting the risk of dying of boredom.”
And, in the first chapter of his Treatise:
“The concept of class struggle constituted the first concrete, tactical marshaling of the shocks and injuries which men live individually; it was born in the whirlpool of suffering which the reduction of human relations to mechanisms of exploitation created everywhere in industrial societies. It issued from a will to transform the world and change life.”

Class struggle is not a metaphysical given. It is the cumulative result of actual flesh-and-blood personal decisions to fight enslavement or submit to it.

 

Class struggle is not a metaphysical given. It is the cumulative result of actual flesh-and-blood personal decisions to fight enslavement or submit to it. Those who wish to reduce these personal decisions to effects of social laws, metaphyiscal principles, psychological drives or ideological dictates are all our enemies to the extent that we refuse to submit. And we do refuse.

 

Notes

1. La Société du Spectacle was first translated into English as The Society of the Spectacle by Fredy Perlman and Jon Supak (Black & Red, 1970; rev. ed. 1977), then by Donald Nicholson-Smith (Zone, 1994), and finally by Ken Knabb (Rebel Press, 2004).

2. Traité de savoir-vivre à l’usage des jeunes générations was first translated into English by Paul Sieveking and John Fullerton as The Revolution of Everyday Life (Practical Paradise Publications , 1979), then by Donald Nicholson-Smith (Rebel Press/Left Bank Books, 1994) and (Rebel Press, 2001).

3. Dogan, Mattei. “How Civil War Was Avoided in France.” International Political Science Review/Revue internationale de science politique, vol. 5, #3: 245–277.

4. In his 1955 essay, “Introduction to a critique of urban geography” (originally appearing in Les Lèvres Nues #6), Guy Debord suggests that: “Psychogeography could set for itself the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals. The adjective psychogeographical, retaining a rather pleasing vagueness, can thus be applied to the findings arrived at by this type of investigation, to their influence on human feelings, and even more generally to any situation or conduct that seems to reflect the same spirit of discovery.” (Ken Knabb, editor and translator, Situationist International Anthology, 1989, p. 5.)

5. Unitary urbanism consists in an experimental “critique of urbanism” that “merges objectively with the interests of a comprehensive subversion.” “It is the foundation for a civilization of leisure and play.” (unattributed, “Unitary Urbanism at the end of the 1950s,” Internationale Situationiste #3, December 1959.)

6. By the time the SI disbanded in 1972 Guy Debord and Gianfranco Sanguinetti (relatively new to the organization) were the only remaining members.

7. René Viénét is the listed author of Enragés and Situationists in the Occupation Movement: Paris, May, 1968, essentially the SI’s account of its activities during the May Days, written in collaboration with others in the group.

8. René Riesel was one of the Enragés at Nanterre who went on to join the SI.

9. Gianfranco Sanguinetti is notorious for his post-Situationist activities, most importantly, his scandalous authorship – under the pseudonym Censor – of The Real Report on the Last Chance to Save Capitalism in Italy, which was mailed to 520 of the most powerful industrialists, academics, politicians and journalists in Italy, purporting (as an assumed pillar of Italian industrialism) to support the practice of state security forces using terrorism under cover in order to discredit radical opposition. When Sanguinetti revealed his authorship he was expelled from Italy.

10.This episode led to a split in the Lettrists and the later founding of the more radical Lettrist International, which itself was one of the founding groups of the Situationist International. Debord was a member of the Lettrist International. Unfortunately, it’s reported that a quick-thinking organist drowned out most of the Notre-Dame intervention.

11. The full title is On the Poverty of Student Life considered in Its Economic, Political, Psychological, Sexual, and Especially Intellectual Aspects, with a Modest Proposal for Doing Away With It. Mustapha Khayati was the main, but not the sole, author.

12. “Pro-situationist” or “pro-situ” was the (sometimes derisive) label given by Situationists to those who (often uncritically, or less than fully critically) supported and promoted Situationist ideas and practices as they (often incompletely) understood them, rather than constructing their own autonomous theoretical and practical activities. This includes most of the Situationist-inspired activities in the SF Bay area in the 1970s wake of the SI’s own dissolution. There was a proliferation of tiny pro-situ groups like the Council for the Eruption of the Marvelous, Negation, Contradiction, 1044, the Bureau of Public Secrets, Point Blank!, The Re-invention of Everyday Life and For Ourselves. Most Situationist-influenced anarchists at the time (for example, Black & Red in Detroit, and a bit later John & Paula Zerzan’s Upshot, the Fifth Estate group, Bob Black’s Last International, the group around Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed, and others) stood apart from these interesting attempts to carry on the Situationist project in a very different North American social, political, economic and cultural situation, if for no other reason than basic disagreements with the SI’s Marxism, councilism, fetishization of technology, ideological rationalism, inadequate ecological critique and seemingly complete ignorance of indigenous resistance. (Which is not to say that Situationist-influenced anarchists didn’t have their own, often equally-debilitating problems.)

13. See Ken Knabb’s translator’s introduction to the third chapter of Raoul Vaneigem’s From Wildcat Strike to Total Self-Management, included in Knabb’s Bureau of Public Secrets web site at: http://www.bopsecrets.org/CF/selfmanagement.htm

14. “Vaneigemism is an extreme form of the modern anti-puritanism that has to pretend to enjoy what is supposed to be enjoyable…. Vaneigemist ideological egoism holds up as the radical essence of humanity that most alienated condition of humanity for which the bourgeoisie was reproached, which ‘left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest’….” – page 256 of Ken Knabb, “The Society of Situationism” published in Public Secrets (Bureau of Public Secrets, 1997).

15. Debord borrowed heavily from the Socialisme ou Barbarie group’s flirtation with council communism, or councilist social democracy. He was a member of S. ou B. for a time.

16. Vaneigem’s is so far the best update of Max Stirner’s original nineteenth century phenomenology of modern slavery and autonomous insurrection, Der Einzige und Sein Eigenthum, mistranslated into English as The Ego and Its Own. (A more accurate translation would be The Unique and Its Property.) Although Vaneigem mentions Stirner in his text, it is unclear how well he understands Stirner’s intent, and how much he has been influenced by Stirner.

 

Max Stirner: mixed bag with a pomo twist

AMax Stirner anthology - cover 600dpi descreened005 review by Jason McQuinn

Max Stirner edited by Saul Newman (Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2011) 223 pages, $90.00 hardcover.

One more sign of the ongoing revival of interest in the still-generally-ignored seminal writings of Max Stirner is the appearance of the first collection of essays to be published in the English language on the subject of his life and work. You can bet it won’t be the last. The title itself, simply Max Stirner, gives little indication of the specific intent or content of the collection. But the publisher is Palgrave Macmillan, an academic imprint for Macmillan Publishers in the UK and St. Martin’s Press in the US, indicating that the aim here is an academic – rather than explicitly partisan, polemical or critical – work. It has been published as the first text of a series of “Critical Explorations In Contemporary Political Thought,” whose “aim…is to provide authoritative guides to the work of contemporary political thinkers, or thinkers with a strong resonance in the present, in the form of an edited collection of scholarly essays.” Given this ingenuous series description, it has to be pointed out that it is absurd to present the book as an “authoritative guide” to the writings of a man who would likely more than anyone else refuse the very possibility. This is, unfortunately, only the first of many indications of the uneven nature and quality of this collection. By now, rather than empty “authoritative” pretensions, it should be clear that any serious Stirner scholarship requires a large amount of humility in the face of all the historical incomprehension and mystification Stirner’s work has already received from the academy.

The editor of the collection is Saul Newman, an academic known in libertarian circles mostly for his advocacy of what he calls “post-anarchism” (sometimes considered short for “post-structuralist anarchism”). Post-anarchism in practice entails a mishmash of often awkward attempts at a philosophical synthesis of post-structuralist or post-modernist theories – especially Foucault’s – with schematic, heavily theoretical and largely leftist versions of anarchism. Most often in these syntheses, post-structuralist currents end up in the dominant position, in charge of reforming a post-modernist anarchism from a heavily caricatured essentialist, modernist past. Somewhat incongruously, some of Max Stirner’s ideas also often figure in the “post-anarchist” stews, especially in Saul Newman’s variation. However, Newman’s own post-anarchist position (in which Stirner is elsewhere touted as a “proto-poststructuralist thinker”) does not appear to be consistently shared by other contributors to the volume reviewed, thus occasionally leaving rather large leaps in commitments and theoretical positions between any one essay and the next. On the whole this seems to be a positive point for the book, allowing those neither interested in nor convinced by post-anarchist perspectives to share other perspectives on Stirner in this eclectic academic mix. Given the variety of perspectives expressed in the texts that make up this volume, it makes sense to separate them out in order to give each author, however briefly, his and her due, beginning with the editor’s introduction.

“Re-encountering Stirner’s Ghosts” by Saul Newman

Apparently in deference to Derrida’s dominant (though somewhat incoherent) trope in Specters of Marx, the title of Newman’s introduction, “Re-encountering Stirner’s Ghosts,” seems at least in part intended (among other contradictory intentions) to imply that the “ghosts” Stirner exposes in Der Einzige und sein Eigentum (which I will translate here as The Unique and Its Own¹) also haunt and/or obsess Stirner personally² (rather than haunting and obsessing instead only the great mass of deluded individuals who themselves take these “ghosts” for real, external powers instead of imagined constructions of their own self-alienated powers.) Or that even Stirner himself somehow “haunts” readers! However useful and accurate it might be to portray Karl Marx as still haunted by such “specters,” it doesn’t make any real sense in the case of Stirner, as any careful reading of The Unique and Its Own will reveal. And, beyond this, when Newman later (p. 3) suggests: “Stirner has never ceased to be a ghost,” we would do better to read: “Stirner has never ceased being reduced to a ghost” by idealists and religious rationalists of all types – including post-structuralists. It is otherwise clear from Stirner’s own words that he personally has no cares nor worries from all the ghosts that the vast masses of people are always so busy constructing to haunt themselves. In fact, as Stirner announces, his concerns are completely beyond and outside of any ghostly or spiritual concerns. They are purely his own concerns. Nor does it make much sense to cast Stirner himself as a metaphorical ghost for his readers just because we know so few details of his life or because most of his readers show little or no understanding of his texts. Or even because Stirner’s critiques are not so easily dismissed as most of his critics at first seem to believe, often returning to trouble even their most careful philosophical, religious or moral calculations. These poorly-aimed hauntological³ rhetorical moves by Newman will most likely just lead more people into even more confusion that could instead be relieved with a bit more serious, observant – and logical – research and analysis. At the least, it should be realized by commentators that the haphazard blending of Stirner’s careful critique of spirits/ghosts/the uncanny with Derrida’s intentionally vague and capricious trope will never be likely to lead to an increased understanding of Stirner when there are already so many mystifications of Stirner’s arguments that readers must sort through without having any more added.

However, despite the questionable preconceptions and rhetorical conceits involved in Newman’s post-structuralist, post-anarchist perspective, he does manage to provide – for one very brief stretch – what could have been the beginning of an exemplary introduction to the volume when he argues:

“… In marking a break with all established categories and traditions of thought – Hegelianism, humanism, rationalism – and in demolishing our most deeply entrenched notions of morality, subjectivity, humanity and society, Stirner takes a wrecking ball to the philosophical architecture of our Western tradition, leaving only ruins in his path. All our beliefs are dismissed by Stirner as so many ideological abstractions, ‘spooks,’ ‘fixed ideas’: our faith in rationality is shown to be no less superstitious than faith in the most obfuscating of religions. Man is simply God reinvented; secular institutions and discourses are alive with specters of Christianity; universalism is spoken from a particular position of power. Stirner tears up the paving stones of our world, revealing the abyss of nothingness that lies beneath.” (p. 1)

Newman is at his best at moments like this when obfuscatory post-structuralist terminology is left behind for plain old English, and when his cloudy references to obscure (for non-academic readers) French theorists like Lacan, Foucault and Derrida evaporate, momentarily leaving us with relatively transparent prose under clear blue skies. Newman’s remarks above make it hard for anyone familiar with Stirner to object. Stirner clearly breaks with any and “all established categories and traditions of thought.” He certainly demolishes every “entrenched notion.” Stirner even “takes a wrecking ball to the philosophical architecture of our Western tradition” – Newman here interestingly echoes (Stirner-influenced) Feral Faun’s old essay title: “Radical Theory: A Wrecking Ball for Ivory Towers.” (4) (Though Newman also seems oblivious to the implications his own position as one of the minor “philosophers” of that very architecture – himself inhabiting one of the lesser “Ivory Towers.”) Newman’s perspective on Stirner’s “wrecking ball” may also seem somewhat limited if confined to “our Western tradition,” when there should be no reason to regard its effects as being confined to a single tradition, especially since Stirner’s work is not unknown among Eastern philosophers (see, for example, works by members of the Japanese Kyoto School like Nishida Kitaro and Kieji Nishitani), nor was Eastern thought unknown to Stirner.

The otherwise promising opening of Newman’s introduction is unfortunately ruined when he concludes his first paragraph with the standard howler of Stirner (pseudo-) scholarship.

“All that is left standing after this frenzy of destruction is the Ego – the only reality – smiling at us enigmatically, like Stirner himself, across the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to our present day.” (p.1)

Because this howler is so often repeated in so much of the heretofore persistently incompetent “scholarship” on Stirner it requires a fair bit of unavoidable explanation. (5)

This statement might make some sense if Stirner had actually written anything in his masterwork suggesting that a concept of “the Ego” could ever be “the only reality.” But he didn’t. Nor does he ever suggest that such a concept would be “left standing” after his destruction of – and exit from – philosophy. In The Unique and Its Own, Stirner neither speaks of any generic concept of “the Ego” in those words, nor even of “the I” at all in any positive, uncritical way. Nor, for that matter, did Stirner ever suggest that “the only reality” could ever possibly lie in any generic or universal conception at all. Stirner is, on the contrary, quite clear that it is only I, “the Unique,” who am both “all and nothing.” That is, it is myself only as indefinable, nonconceptual, actually-lived I who am all. And there can be no possible concept (thought), even the completely and transparently nominal (and thus “empty”) concept of “the Unique” that actually has any real, independent, living existence for me. In order for academic scholarship on Stirner to finally exit its self-prolonged dark age, it will have to at the very least begin from this minimal understanding instead of perpetually recapitulating the unfounded confusion between I, “the Unique” (Stirner’s name suggesting his entire nonconceptual life-process, including his entire world as it is lived) and “the I” or “the Ego” (as generic, determinate concepts, however they may be defined). Currently we have entered well within the second half of the second century of pseudo-scholarly mystification on this point, extending from Stirner’s earliest critics all the way to contemporary liberal, Marxist, and now post-structuralist critics. Can’t we all at last drop these mystifying references to “the ego” that Stirner never advocated – at least in essays and books claiming to explore Stirner’s writings?

In The Unique and Its Own, Stirner neither speaks of any generic concept of “the Ego” in those words, nor even of “the I” at all in any positive, uncritical way. Nor, for that matter, did Stirner ever suggest that “the only reality” could ever possibly lie in any generic or universal conception at all. Stirner is, on the contrary, quite clear that it is only I, “the Unique,” who am both “all and nothing.” That is, it is myself only as indefinable, nonconceptual, actually-lived I who am all. And there can be no possible concept (thought), even the completely and transparently nominal (and thus “empty”) concept of “the Unique” that actually has any real, independent, living existence for me. In order for academic scholarship on Stirner to finally exit its self-prolonged dark age, it will have to at the very least begin from this minimal understanding instead of perpetually recapitulating the unfounded confusion between I, “the Unique” and “the I” or “the Ego”.

Newman goes on to correctly stress that “Stirner is a thinker who defies easy categorization” (p. 2) and that he has had a profound impact – an “often shattering impact – on the trajectory of social and political theory.” (p. 2) But just as Newman opens an opportunity to expose not just Karl Marx’s squirming attempt in The German Ideology “to exorcise the spectre of idealism from his own thought by claiming to find it in Stirner’s” (p. 2), but more importantly Marx’s ultimate failure in this attempt, he stops short. Newman shows no understanding that although Marx might have attempted to escape from his humanism and idealism due to his “encounter with Stirner,” he in fact failed to escape, succeeding only in masking his humanism and idealism in a more obscure and mystifying manner. Given the inclusion of Paul Thomas’ expectedly pro-Marxist and anti-Stirner interpretation of the Stirner-Marx encounter in this anthology, it isn’t clear how much Newman’s subtle whitewashing of Marx is just being politic with a contributor, or how much Newman himself remains in thrall to (ultimately idealist) Marxist categories of philosophical or dialectical materialism. As is so often the case with commentators on Stirner, Marx escapes any but the most toothless of criticisms when any half-way consistent application of Stirner’s critique to Marxist categories would easily expose their pious nature.

Newman states that he “…prefer(s) to see Stirner as a tool to be used, as a means of forcing apart the tectonic plates of our world and destabilizing the institutions and identities that rest upon them.” (p. 4) And this is a perfectly good use of Stirner’s work. Yet, Newman also makes it clear over and over again in his introduction that he will not allow himself to understand Stirner (or use this “tool”) outside of the categories of post-structuralist philosophy. The (minor) “tectonic plates” of post-structuralism and post-modernism must not themselves be destabilized. Stirner can and will be used by Newman as a tool in their service, but never as a source for potentially autonomous criticism outside of – and far more radical than – the philosophical and religious preconceptions and limits of post-structuralist and post-modernist ideologues like Derrida, Foucault and Deleuze. Newman will “…conjure up Stirner’s ghost,” but not allow that such conjuring is a recuperation and mystification of Stirner’s exit from every category of religion, philosophy and ideology, not just from the range of categories that Newman himself is currently ready to leave behind.

“A Solitary Life” by David Leopold

To whatever extent David Leopold’s condescending – and at times bizarre – biographical sketch of Max Stirner’s life is actually meant to provide a “Historical Context” (p. 19) for understanding Stirner and his texts, as the book’s section title would appear to indicate, it certainly fails in reaching beyond fairly immediate circumstances. What can be said about a biography – of a widely misunderstood, occasionally celebrated though often denounced or reviled, but incredibly creative, controversial and powerful figure in the history of ideas and their criticism – that ignores just about every avenue for exploring the relation of the historical context of Stirner’s writing to the meanings and understanding of his texts besides those few already well-traveled? Leopold could have at least attempted to give readers a brief picture of the social, economic, political, or at least the philosophical and cultural context of post-revolutionary Europe, Vormärz Germany, and especially Berlin in which Stirner lived and wrote. Instead, Leopold is content to merely summarize the standard biographical details easily available from John Henry Mackay’s works on Stirner’s life, along with emphasizing a few relatively salacious tidbits of unsubstantiated gossip and rumor about the author’s marriages, sex life, occasional penury, and even the location of his skull! In addition, he occasionally adds a few of his own speculations along with the extraneous comments of others concerning side questions whose relevance to an account of Stirner’s life and writings might better have been left for footnotes. Any broad consideration of the intellectual context of the times is especially absent. Although Leopold could hardly have avoided mention of contemporary Hegelians and post-Hegelians with whom Stirner associated, there is not a single mention of the German Romantics; of important German philosophers like Immanuel Kant, Johann Fichte or Schelling; or even of such an epochal event as the French Revolution in this account. Leopold uses more space to recount and speculate about the life and bitter comments of Stirner’s ex-wife (made more than 50 years after their separation!) than he does to recount the history and content of all of Stirner’s sixty articles published immediately prior to The Unique and Its Own! Leopold seems somewhat uncertain here whether he’s writing for a scholarly tome or the tabloid press, and thus succeeds at neither. Readers hoping for more light to be shed on Stirner through an examination of the “historical context” of his life and works will be left wondering what Leopold was thinking when he wrote this essay. We can only hope that the next person to take up the challenge will approach it more seriously.

“The Mirror of Anarchy: The Egoism of John Henry Mackay and Dora Marsden” by Ruth Kinna

Ruth Kinna examines the real-existing “egoism” of John Henry Mackay and Dora Marsden within and at the margins of the libertarian milieu at the turn of the 19th to the 20th centuries. She further situates her examination within terms of recent differences between Alan Antliff and Saul Newman regarding the relation of anarchism to post-structuralism. Although both Mackay and Marsden are interesting figures with genuine achievements, they are also both marginalized – when not completely ignored – within ideologically leftist, including left anarchist, accounts of libertarian history and thought. Despite Kinna’s seeming enthusiasm for Newman’s narrowly post-structuralist reading of Stirner, she shows a welcome openness to the lives and texts of Mackay and Marsden that allows them to speak for themselves rather than as puppets of post-structuralism or of the “Stirnerism” that they represent for her. Kinna, citing Antliff’s critique of Newman, takes a step towards exposing the importance of the wide-ranging and broadly multiplicitous forms and expressions anarchism has taken throughout its existence. But, though these examinations of Mackay and Marsden are genuinely interesting and a pleasure to read, they actually shine little light on the understanding of Stirner’s writings. Kinna indicates this herself when she ventures: “How far either Mackay or Marsden faithfully interpreted Stirner is a moot point.” This can also be a warning for those not already alert to the fact that egoism is not a settled, agreed phenomenon and not all self-appointed or alleged “egoists” share anything like the same perspective. But even non-Stirnerian egoists can hold a “mirror to anarchy” and provide worthwhile, sometimes life-changing, insights.

“The Multiplicity of Nothingness: A Contribution to a Non-reductionist Reading of Stirner” by Riccardo Baldissone

One of the two most interesting contributions – one of the two real reasons for picking up this book – is Riccardo Baldissone’s “non-reductionist reading” of Stirner. Even though it’s actually not a “non-reductionist” reading except through a strange and playful bit of pomo logic. It’s actually an anachronistic reading of Stirner according to more common logic and word usage. But I won’t quibble too much here, since the result is a sophisticated, sometimes insightful, and most often enjoyable romp through history making connections in both directions – forwards and back – between Stirner and later forebears or his earlier successors. Precisely because of its explicit playfulness, Baldissone can get away with revealing revealing connections that may not technically exist in our usual reality, but still can exist just the same by his and our making them. However, just as Kinna’s examinations of Mackay and Marsden (while interesting for unraveling a few of the complex relations of egoism and anarchism) don’t add much to our understanding of Stirner’s writings themselves, Baldissone’s anarchronistic connections are read loosely enough that what they reveal doesn’t always add that much either. Except that Baldissone already begins his reading from a more profound understanding of Stirner’s Einzige (“Unique”) that allows him to focus on far more interesting aspects of these connections than we would otherwise expect! Especially worthwhile here, are his discussions of the nonconceptual nature, the radical openness, and the “multiple monstrosity” of Stirner’s egoist critique, which most often demand that he be at least fundamentally misunderstood, when not outright ignored, ridiculed or demonized by all those complicit in the culture of modern slavery. Among other authors, Baldissone covers – sometimes all too briefly – connections between Stirner and Gilles Deleuze, Ivan Illich, Michel Foucault, Carl Schmitt, Derrida, Wittgenstein, Marx, Sorel, Hegel (here mentioning Lawrence Stepelevich’s “truly remarkable essay ‘Max Stirner as Hegelian’”), Kant, and the “western Church Fathers.” In passing Baldissone argues that “Stirner’s implacable indictment of ideas cannot be brought back under the umbrella of critique,” though in doing so he ignores that Stirner does make a distinction between ideological (“servile”) criticism – which always involves substituting one fixed idea or presupposition for another – and “own criticism.” But in the main Baldissone has launched a nicely provocative attack on (the generally sub-) standard Stirner scholarship in a very encouraging manner!

“The Philosophical Reactionaries” translated and introduced by Widukind De Ridder

The other major reason to pick up this book is the inclusion of two contributions from Widukind De Ridder – the first an introduction to and translation of Stirner’s response to his critic Kuno Fischer, and the second a longer commentary on “The End of Philosophy and Political Subjectivity” a bit later in the collection. De Ridder’s introduction, by giving no opinion, is much too easy on skepticism about Stirner’s authorship of “The Philosophical Reactionaries,” (which was originally attributed to “G. Edward”). Given that the essay was published by the same person (Otto Wigand) who published Stirner’s Der Einzige und sein Eigenthum itself, his publisher could hardly have been unaware of the identity of the “G. Edward” responding to Stirner’s critics, yet never gave (nor did Stirner himself give) any indication it wasn’t Stirner. But De Ridder shows the most insight into the intentions and implications of Stirner’s writings of all contributors to this volume. So it is only fitting that he has provided the first full English translation of “The Philosophical Reactionaries” here, a very valuable and essential text giving a final response to a critic, following the original “Stirner’s Critics” reply to Feuerbach, Moses Hess and Szeliga. As De Ridder indicates, the timing of this response offers “a unique insight into Stirner’s own appraisal of [his] book in the wake of the ultimate demise of Young Hegelianism.” (p. 89) An appraisal that allowed Stirner “to emphasize how [his] criticism of humanism was eventually a criticism of philosophy itself.” (p. 92) Stirner makes short work of the young Fischer in the text, with slashing wit that leaves Fischer and all of philosophy abandoned in the dust.

“Max Stirner and Karl Marx: An Overlooked Contretemps” by Paul Thomas

“Stirner’s work has always been a special target for Marxist damnation, given its overt challenge to every form of ideology, including all Marxist ideologies. But ever since Karl Marx’s German Ideology was published the clash between Stirner and Marx has taken on ever more importance.”

Stirner’s work has always been a special target for Marxist damnation, given its overt challenge to every form of ideology, including all Marxist ideologies. But ever since Karl Marx’s failed materialist attack on Stirner in The German Ideology was finally published in 1932 the clash between Stirner and Marx has taken on ever more importance for defenders of Marxism. As a result we have seen a continuing stream of (usually off-hand and well off-base) Marxist critiques of Stirner appear, most of which borrow heavily from Marx’s own early misinterpretations of Stirner’s work. Paul Thomas’ critique of Stirner is little different – though a little more intelligent than most – in this respect. Thomas has at least a small ability to occasionally give Stirner some token credit for a few of his critical contributions. In general, though, Thomas insists on agressively following Marx’s lead in reducing Stirner’s work to an idealistic caricature constructed from dialectical materialist categories. Rather than ever allow Stirner to make points on his own, Thomas slavishly interprets Stirner’s every move in terms of an original Marxist incomprehension that defies logic, but serves the purpose of protecting Marxist ideological clichés from Stirner’s actual criticisms. There’s really no excuse for including this completely out-of-place text in this collection.

“Max Stirner: The End of Philosophy and Political Subjectivity” by Widukind De Ridder

The second of Widukind De Ridder’s valuable contributions to this volume makes the hard-to-avoid argument that Stirner’s critique inevitably leads to a refusal of philosophy. Although this refusal was mostly implicit in Stirner’s The Unique and Its Own, Stirner made it impossible to ignore in “The Philosophical Reactionaries.” This means that it is at least problematic to include Stirner as one of the “Young Hegelians,” as though he shared an essentially similar relation to Hegelian philosophy as the others so classified, like Ludwig Feuerbach and Bruno Bauer. And it certainly means, as De Ridder argues, that Stirner’s “ideas cannot be reduced to a traditional philosophy of the subject (existentialism),” and that his writings “not only question the revolutionary subject in a strictly Marxist sense, but eventually any form of (political) subjectivity.” (p. 143) De Ridder further notes that “For Stirner the crisis of the estate order [in Vormärz Prussia] calls neither for a new synthesis nor a new philosophy of the self, but necessitates new ways of transcending the political and societal horizon as a whole.” (p. 145) And Stirner does this by “dissolv[ing] existing philosophical categories by contrasting them with concepts that lay explicitly beyond philosophy.” (p. 145) These latter “concepts” outside philosophy include the “Unique,” “ownness” and “egoism.” The bulk of De Ridder’s arguments cover the conflict between the development of Bruno Bauer’s immanent philosophical critique of Hegel and Stirner’s “parody of the Young Hegelian quest to identify a modern political subject.” This makes fascinating reading, especially since Bauer himself has been so rarely translated and studied in English-language scholarship, despite his great importance for post-Hegelian critiques. De Ridder concludes that Stirner’s Unique “is fundamentally extra-conceptual. Stirner’s radical nominalism places the concept of [the “Unique”] outside of philosophy and destroys the subject-object dichotomy.” (p. 157)

“Why Anarchists need Stirner” by Kathy E. Ferguson

Kathy Ferguson uses Schmidt and van der Walt’s ill-conceived Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism (already notorious for its extremely narrow and ideological syndicalism) as a foil for arguments in favor of a Stirnerian theoretical and practical autonomy. But she works at this, rather peculiarly (for an anarchist), through use of analyses of the somewhat popular (in leftist circles) post-Stalinist Slavoj Žižek. Thus, while the initial impulse seems worthwhile, the value of “Why anarchists need Stirner” is somewhat mitigated for those who know Stirner well, because Ferguson both undercuts the premise with widely misplaced praise for the “otherwise excellent book on global anarchism and syndicalism, Black Flame,” at the same time that she insists on using an anti-anarchist, pro-Leninist critic (Žižek) to help explain a Stirner with whom he is completely at odds. Still, despite these problems, the essay is largely successful despite itself. But this is probably because (except when Stirner is successfully misrepresented) anti-Stirner arguments are almost guaranteed to fail when directed at anarchists who value their theoretical and practical autonomy. Ideologists like Schmidt and van der Walt, and all the others whose leftism far outweighs any commitment to libertarian values, might as well give up their crusade. Until they can fully detach practical autonomy from anarchism – an impossible feat, without destroying the anarchist impulse itself – they are doomed to a self-delusionally revisionist battle against any and every actually-existing anarchist.

“Stirner’s Ethics of Voluntary Inservitude” by Saul Newman

Saul Newman saves his own most valuable work for the final contribution to this volume, in which he compares Max Stirner’s arguments for insurrectionary insubordination to Étienne de la Boëtie’s earlier critique of “voluntary servitude,” although, unfortunately, Newman once again misrepresents Stirner by focusing on “the singularity of the individual ego” instead of on Stirner’s nonconceptual “Unique.” Despite the clear exposition of Stirner’s critique of philosophy raised by Widukind de Ridder in his two contributions to this book, Newman still insists on describing “Stirner’s philosophical project … as one of clearing the ontological ground of all essential foundations.” (p. 204) But he clearly has no “philosophical project.” As he tirelessly repeats, his is not a project of the individual or the ego, but of his own! Newman is at least correct, though, that one of Stirner’s big contributions “is to point out the futility of founding political action on metphysical ideas of human nature, science, historical laws and assumptions about a shared rationality and morality.” (p. 206)

Notes

1. This is the title for a current CAL Press project-in-process to publish a revised (corrected) edition of the Steven Byington translation of Der Einzige und sein Eigenthum that dispenses with the disastrous confusion between Stirner’s “Einzige” and “the Ego” that Benjamin Tucker’s title and Byingon’s text have introduced and reinforced. Also underway is Wolfi Landstreicher’s completely new translation, which should also help immensely to clear up this confusion, slated to appear under the more literal title as The Unique and Its Property.

2. Newman comments, “…just as we think we have [Stirner] pinned down, he slips away again like one of his own spectres.” (p. 2, my emphasis) Elsewhere Newman asks, “Why, then, resurrect Max Stirner, the thinker who was obsessed with ghosts, “spooks,” and ideological apparitions….” in “Spectres of Freedom: Stirner and Foucault” (Postmodern Culture Vol.14, #3, May 2004).

3. “Hauntology” is one of those pomo jokes you couldn’t make up without feeling deeply embarrassed for yourself, but seem to be taken seriously by (too) many academics. The source is Derrida’s relatively incoherent Spectres of Marx.

4. This essay was originally published in Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed #38, Fall 1993 (C.A.L. Press).

5. See my “John Clark’s Stirner,” published in Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed #68/69 (undated) as “John Clark’s Spook,” and my introduction to Wolfi Landstreicher’s translation of Max Stirner’s Stirner’s Critics (LBC Books / CAL Press, 2012), “Clarifying the Unique and Its Self-Creation.” (Landstreicher’s translations in Stirner’s Critics include both the first full English translation of “Stirner’s Critics,” as well as a second English translation of “The Philosophical Reactionaries,” which appears to have been completed not long after –and unaware of – De Ridder’s translation.)

EDITORIAL: The Slave Syndrome

In the 1979 robbery of Kreditbanken at Norrmalmstorg – a square in Stockholm, Sweden – several bank employees were held hostage in the bank vault for most of a week during which time they began to increasingly identify with their captors. While their captors were under seige by police, the hostages went on to reject assistance from government agents. And after the captors were themselves captured by police the former hostages defended them. This example of abused victims becoming emotionally attached to their captors has since become widely known as the Stockholm Syndrome. It has been widely reported, studied and theorized to the point where it has nearly become a sociological cliché.

Identification with powerful figures has been a commonplace of life thoughout recorded history. Despite all delusions of modern social progress it is as fundamental to institutional functioning as it has ever been since the dawn of civilization. What is particularly unusual in the situation that unfolded in Stockholm was the rather quick switch from fearful hostages involuntarily cooperating with their captors under duress to fearful hostages voluntarily cooperating with their captors under duress. In a matter of days, a number of hostages went through huge changes – with some of these changes persisting well past the physical crisis of capture and confinement. (Including a later marriage between hostage and captor.) It was the quickness and unity of this conversion of identification that led to the naming of this type of situation. And its occasional, if rare, repetition around the world has kept awareness of the Stockholm Syndrome current.

More interesting – and far more revealing of the nature of modern civilization – than the rare episodic instances of Stockholm Syndrome-style dramas is the near-complete lack of attention paid to the huge importance of identification with powerful figures in the everyday functions of modern institutions, especially all of the institutions of moden enslavement. There may be little overt drama as the vast majority of people in contemporary societies grow in age, but fail to ever mature to the point where they can stand on their own two feet and make their own decisions about their world without feeling obsessively compelled to attach their identities to those of rich and powerful bullies. However, anyone perceptive enough to be concerned has to wonder how this situation can remain, not only unreported, unstudied and untheorized, but even unnamed in the current sensationally media-crazed culture.

In any society in which slavery was a rare or nonexistent institution it would be quite obvious that the Stockhom Syndrome is itself just a more rare and special case of a far more common, though equally perplexing, Slave Syndrome.

In any society in which slavery was a rare or nonexistent institution it would be quite obvious that the Stockhom Syndrome is itself just a more rare and special case of a far more common, though equally perplexing, Slave Syndrome. But in our society of modern slavery – in which this slavery cannot be officially acknowledged or named, recognizing the existence of the Slave Syndrome is also tabu. What is worse, even among those most libertarian of social critics, the anarchists, it can barely be named.

The Stockholm Syndrome is rare (and scandalous) because the situations in which it can occur (tiny prolonged hostage dramas) are also so rare. On the contrary, the Slave Syndrome is everywhere (and entirely unremarkable to its observers and victims) precisely because the situations in which it occurs (prolonged institutional hostage dramas) are ubiquitous and in a society of modern slavery, even those few slaves aware of their condition are not often eager to announce the fact of their enslavement.

What makes the Slave Syndrome even more invisible is the fact that it is far more the institutions of modern slavery than the particular persons who run them, that are now the powerful figures with which people most identify. The nearly unanimous belief in the substantial reality of imaginary, reified entities (like gods, Santa Claus, science, society, the state and laws) means that rather than identifications with actual living persons – although such identifications still remain common – most people now identify more closely with reified abstractions, and the institutions able to operate under the cover provided by mass-belief in these abstractions. Of course, these institutions in reality only consist in the sum of actions pursued by the people participating in the constitution and maintenance of their symbolic “existence.” But this fact is lost on people who have learned to prefer the modern enslavement to abstractions to traditional forms of enslavement to persons.Thus the whole set of modern institutions of enslavement (hiding behind these abstractions) have become the primary contemporary incarnation of traditionally rich and powerful bullies. This is the central fact of modern civilization, the paradigm upon which the entire social world rests: a system of enslaving institutions, in which people have been trained from birth to participate and identify, while also being trained to call the various forms of this slavery “freedom.”

Especially amongst the most depraved slaves to modern bullies – those who sing their praises the most strongly, continuously and publicly, the people who make up the modern mass media, one cannot possibly count the times that identifications with these bullies are repeated over and over and over. For those who haven’t already gotten the message through exposure to parental submission and humiliation, or private and public schooling, the mass media (including social media) insist on telling us ad nauseam that we are beholden to “our government,” “our military,” “our businesses,” “our police,” “our laws” and on and on….

In a world of modern slavery in which slavery is invisible because liberty has been largely reduced to following laws and orders issued, not (for the most part at least) by particular persons, but ever increasingly by abstractions (incarnated by institutions), is modern slavery still slavery when there are fewer and fewer people left able and willing to point it out? That remains to be decided. Where do you stand?

We can each refuse idenfication with our enslavement by rebelling against it here and now at every opportunity. By refusing to let ourselves be encompassed in the silent consent implied whenever “we” or “our” includes the abstractions or institutions of modern slavery. It’s “their” system, not “ours” or “mine.” It’s the system of those who continue to believe in it, not of those who genuinely fight it. If you identify with it, you’re a part of it. The more you refuse identification with it the more its power is reduced by each and every one of us whenever we act on this refusal.

-Jason McQuinn

MS#3 Contributors

Bob Black is author of many interventions, as well as a number of books, including The Abolition of Work and other Essays, Anarchy after Leftism, Beneath the Underground and Friendly Fire, along with the yet-to-be-published, Nightmares of Reason, and his latest work, Defacing the Currency: Selected Writings 1992 – 2012. He has contributed to many periodicals, including Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed.

Susannah Clemence. “Forty-odd years ago in a blacked-out West London bathroom, I was shown how to rinse a silkscreen. A bayonet-armed soldier charged above the slogan,

`DO NOT ADJUST YOUR MIND
THERE IS A FAULT IN REALITY’

I want to address the fault. To confront reality, we must see it as it is — that is the function of my art.”

Chuck Dodson. “Self-taught critical thinker, into mixing creatively intelligent surrealism with decolonization awareness. WalkiNg with post-left anarchist critique (tho realizing the value of confrontational nonviolent-orientations) and unsettling settler mentalities, via a self-theory of continual process-oriented “span-aRchy”; –keeping “spans” or informal bridges with aLL human beings (not roboticized machines), while systematically demystifying social control alienation tacts. A deep background in queer and youth solidarity dariNg, amongst a wide swath of other topics. Seeking not `revolution’ but evolution of mind-set, walking thru FEARs as a spirituaL path. (da Visionary Report is one of his projects.)

Karen Goaman has a PhD in Anthropology, University College London. She has written numerous articles in anthologies (2009, Jun & Wahl eds., New Perspectives on Anarchism; 2008, Roca Martínez ed., Anarquismo y Antropología; 2004, Purkis & Bowen eds., Changing Anarchism; 1997, Purkis & Bowen, Towards a 21st Century Anarchism) and in Anarchist Studies. She has worked as a Senior Editor in book publishing and as a part-time Lecturer in Communications at London Metropolitan University.

Manolo Gonzalez grew up a child of the Spanish Revolution in Barcelona, before leaving as a refugee and ending up (by way of North Africa and South America) living and teaching in San Francisco. He will be remembered for his writings on the revolution and its aftermath.

Wolfi Landstreicher is a long-time anarchist and egoist, the author of the book Willful Disobedience from Ardent Press, publisher of the egoist anarchist bulletin, My Own, pamphleteer through his project Intellectual Vagabond Editions, translator (Italian and German, with occasional forays into French) and contributor to Anarchy, A Journal of Desire Armed, as well as Modern Slavery. He has recently translated Max Stirner’s “Stirner’s Critics” and “The Philosophical Reactionaries” in Stirner’s Critics, and is now at work on a forthcoming new translation of Max Stirner’s The Unique and Its Property.

Jason McQuinn, the juggling anarchist, is a founder and was a long-time editor of Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed from 1980 to 2006; as well as the founder and editor of Alternative Press Review and North American Anarchist Review while they were published, and now of the Modern Slavery journal. He is now working on the long-overdue Post-Left Anarchy anthology and recently contributed introductions to Wolfi Landstreicher’s translation of Stirner’s Critics and the LBC edition of Raoul Vaneigem’s Treatist on Etiquette (Revolution of Everyday Life).

Paul Z. Simons was born May 3, 1960 – Salt Lake City – to an unwed mother, an act under Utah state law that made both he and his mother subject to arrest and fine or imprisonment. In his words, “I was born fighting against the law, I live that way and I’ll probably die that way.” An anarchist and Buddhist he has consistently staked out positions that motivate towards contestation with the authoritarian structure that currently labels itself Capital and society. He has written a number of widely read pieces including “Seven Theses on Play,” “Keep Your Powder Dry,” a chapter in Gone to Croatan, and the Afterword for John Zerzan’s Elements of Refusal.  Finally he says, “My proudest moment was participating in the Tompkins Square riot. I found out what freedom and democracy were made of – in an instant.” Simons lives, works, and writes in LA.

Maurice Spira was born in Kent, England in 1944. After four years of quite traditional studies at a provincial art school, and a stint in advertising in London, he left in 1966 for the “new world.” In the ensuing years 1966-74, the psychoactively enriched counter-cultural milieu in Montréal transformed him utterly. Then, after travelling and painting in Mexico during the mid-seventies, he settled in Vancouver. By the early ’80s, requiring a breath of fresh air, Spira vacated the metropolis for a somewhat more rural existence on the Sunshine Coast. More than two decades later, he continues to paint and print in his Roberts Creek studio, while still finding time to grow excellent red cabbages and spuds.

Lawrence S. Stepelevich is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Villanova University. He served as President of The Hegel Society of America and, from 1977 to 1996, was the executive Editor of the Journal of that Society, The Owl of Minerva.

Joseph Winogrond (BA New School, MLitt Ethnology Aberdeen) studied at the University of Wisconsin under Walter R. Agard, Paul MacKendrick, Herbert M. Howe, Herbert S. Lewis and others in the classics and anthropology. After a “Flower Raj” year with the Tibetans at Benares he transferred to the New School where Stanley Diamond was teaching. In 1967 he was co-partner of the Liberation News Service, the New York wire service operated out of its basement offices on Claremont Avenue for more than 400 disparate 1960s underground newspapers. He is presently assembling a pre-market-economy dictionary of northern Europe, Wild English.

Curtains of Blood: A Peek behind the Phenomena of the Grand Guignol

by Paul Z. Simons

“Eyes wide open! Eyes wide open!
Do you not realize how much horror
is contained in those three words.”

– from “In the Darkroom” 1911, Maurice Level & Étienne Rey

The images conjured by the mention of the Théâtre du Grand-Guignol are singular – oozing madness, amorality run riot, blood flowing by the bucketful, and intricate sadistic revenges. One imagines the conclusion of a night at the theatre off rue Chaptal where patrons stumble out into the night and vomit on the curb, and one or two of the more suggestible types faint outright in the street. A little theatre with its own house physician to tend to patrons overcome by the images, content, and presentation of the performances. The truth, of course, is somewhat different than the image, but the image lives on in spite of the actual theatre’s demise in 1962, the dearth of plays translated and available in English, or any other language for that matter; indeed the virtual loss of this entire theatrical tradition. Considered by some as an example of incredibly bad French taste, like Jerry Lewis worship or taking the post-modernists seriously. Regardless, the Grand Guignol seems as dead as one of it’s own brutalized and tortured victims … yet perhaps the real horror of death is contained not in its reality, but in the ultimate distrust by the living that the dead won’t really stay dead for very long. And so it goes….

History

Of course I didn’t jump into Grand Guignol without having the strong feeling that somewhere buried in there were some deep, twisted anarchist roots. The theatre was, after all, located just off the Place Pigalle, the natural habitat of bohemians, drug addicts, revolutionaries, prostitutes, proletarians and assorted flotsam; and this in Paris – the Mother of Revolutions, and timed in the final decade of the 19th and first decades of the 20th century. Which immediately brings to mind the great anarchist terrorists Vaillant, Émile Henry and Ravachol, and from the individualist anarchist menu, the Bonnot Gang – who, among other havoc raised, engineered and perfected the motorized bank robbery getaway. And sure enough without too much digging one uncovers the “Théâtre Libre,” the first artistic move towards what would become the Grand Guignol. The Théâtre Libre opened its doors in 1887, and presented comédies rosse (“nasty comedies”), short plays that showed various aspects of the lives and language of workers, and the underclasses. The theatre was above all meant as an experiment in naturalism, which shines through during the Grand Guignol’s heyday. The Théâtre Libre closed its doors due to bankruptcy in 1893, and one of its founders, Oscar Méténier, walked away from the whole experience with a few ideas. Why not stage what these Parisians liked? They read about violence, mayhem, and death daily in such scandal sheets as Le Petit Journal, and the faits divers sections of newspapers, accompanied by graphic presentations of the crimes described. Perhaps they’d pay to see some of the same. Further, what should ever really stop anyone from doing his best to offend the sensibilities of just about everyone? These two seemingly opposed notions co-existing side by side in an intimate theatre of 285 seats and a stage measuring a meager 20 feet by 20 feet – may just yield a profit.

So Méténier opened the Théâtre du Grand-Guignol in 1897, the name Guignol is slang for puppet, based in part on a popular puppet-character from Lyon (a Gallic version of Punch and Judy). Therefore Theatre of the Big Puppet – perhaps we’ll return later and dig into this. A brief note about the building. Originally a Jansenist church, it was deconsecrated during the Terror and probably used for one of the areas political clubs, in the early 19th century a blacksmith’s shop, briefly a church again, an artists studio, and then a theatre. A photo exists (figure 1) from 1937 of an audience watching one of the plays and in it one can see the interior is still decorated by crosses and one can also make out one of the two wooden carved angels that adorned the side panels. From the very first season, Paris knew it was in for something new, an experience of theatre that wrenched you from your seat, that scared you out of your wits, offended your wife and turned your stomach. One offering from the first two seasons shows a general direction, the play is called “Lui!” (the English version is titled “Jack”), authored by Méténier. In it two prostitutes are reading the Petit Parisien and commenting on the story of a fellow prostitute murdered horribly by a customer. Eventually a knock comes at the door – a new customer, Jack (of course everyone knows he’s the killer – now it’s just a question of time and method, the emotional roller coaster starts to climb the hill). The younger of the two prostitutes takes Jack into her boudoir – he pays for champagne, sleeps a bit, she finds the proceeds from his previous murder as she shakes down his pants – and just as homicide draws near the police close in and arrest him. A close call, not overly thrilling, nor particularly erotic – but a nice start.

After two years Méténier handed control of the theatre over to Max Maurey, who after familiarizing himself with Montmartre and its artists turned immediately to stamping the theatre as The Theatre of Fear. He was a master at playing on the public’s impressions of the theatre, and the hiring of the house doctor was done with much publicity and it figured in many of the early reviews of the Theatre. A cartoon from the era shows a doctor examining patrons before entry to ensure that they have a sufficiently stout constitution to withstand the horrors inside. Maurey loved the cartoon so much it was included in early publicity and playbill material. Méténier also introduced Maurey to André de Lorde who for the next two decades would become the writer par excellence of the Grand Guignol style. In virtually all GG revivals at least one, and occasionally several, of his plays are included. De Lorde would always maintain a tone of naturalism in his works, and as the plays became more bloody and horror-filled he sought out help in looking into the souls and psyche of the insane and the criminal; as an example, one of his collaborators was the psychologist and Director of the Laboratory of Physiological Psychology at the Sorbonne, Alfred Binet, the developer of the Binet Intelligence test (and DeLorde’s psychotherapist). A fact I find incredible, like having Jung on the set of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre to rework dialogue. A final example of this commitment to naturalism is the content of the plays, which avoid all supernatural causation; no werewolves or vampires at the GG. Rather what makes the plays so immediate is that much of the content is so damned possible; like being bitten by a rabid dog, or suffering a terrible vengeance by the hand of a jealous, crazed lover. Maurey also paid close attention to the unique stage tricks required to pull off a GG play. In this he was assisted by Paul Ratineau, effectively the theatre’s stage manager, and a master of making the grisly happen (cheaply and effectively) on stage. The stage gags and tricks associated with GG are legendary and are still written about by theatre professionals. It is said that Ratineau and those managers who came later had perfected at least 9 different types of stage blood. Note that each type was for different kinds of wounds, or effects, some flowed, some stuck to the skin, another type squirted. The most popular blood at the GG actually coagulated after application – it is known that this type required heating just prior to use and “scabbed” as it cooled. A neat fact understood by return patrons of the GG who when they heard whispered from backstage – “Edmond quick! Warm the blood!” knew that things were going to get intense – and soon. One other gag that was uniquely Grand Guignol was the eyeball gouged from the socket. For this trick Ratineau used sheep eyes purchased from local butchers, they were drained of fluid and anchovies dyed red were placed (sewn? stapled?) inside. The GG stage crew were proud of the fact their stage eyeballs bounced when gouged out and squirted horrifically when stomped on. Add to this the knives with retractable blades, scissors that squirted blood, artificial limbs hacked off and you have an idea of what the audience so feared, and had paid to see. Recall also that these stage tricks were being done within feet of the first row in the audience, and there were neither retakes nor do-overs – an eye gouge had to work for every performance, perfectly. Ratineau put his skills to making all these stage tricks effective and after his leaving the theatre several other masters of the trade stepped in and developed upon his promising start.

 

(Read the entire article: Order a copy of MS issue #2 for $12.95 + 2.05 postage & handling from: CAL Press, POB 24332, Oakland, CA 94623. Or, we should soon have a new payment system operative on our web site at: modernslavery.calpress.org )

John Zerzan’s “Twilight of the Machines”

John Zerzan's Twilight of the Machines

Twilight of the Machines – John Zerzan

John Zerzan’s         Twilight of the Machines

 

Twilight of the Machines by John Zerzan (Feral House, Port Townsend, WA, 2008) 141pp. $12.00 paperback.

John Zerzan is now one of the most well-known of contemporary North American anarchist writers and theorists, along with Noam Chomsky and Hakim Bey (and formerly, prior to his definitive renunciation of his already questionable anarchism, also Murray Bookchin). Zerzan is best known as one of the major proponents of anarcho-primitivism and green anarchy, along with Fredy Perlman and others. Beginning with his essays appearing primarily in The Fifth Estate in the 1980s (collected in his central and still most important work, Elements of Refusal), Zerzan has built an impressive edifice of documentation, critique and speculation ranging over the lifeways of nomadic paleolithic gatherer-hunters to the origins of symbolic culture and civilization to the intensification of contemporary alienation in runaway technology, hyperurbanization and the emptiness of everyday life in mass consumer society and post-modern culture. Twilight of the Machines contains Zerzan’s latest essays from the new millennium, this time primarily collected from Green Anarchy. This new book follows Running on Emptiness: The Failure of Symbolic Thought and Future Primitive, both of which collected essays mostly appearing in Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed during the 1990s.

For the most part, Twilight of the Machines is an eloquent call for each of us to face the appalling predicament of the entire human species as the globalizing spread of modern techno-industrial civilization continues to destroy the natural world, degrade what’s left of face-to-face communities, and lead human society towards an impending global collapse. While not light reading by any means, the essays in Twilight of the Machines are all fairly short (the longest seems to be only 11 pages). And although the book might seem a bit thin at 141 pages, the short format, like that of his previous two collections, will most likely make it more approachable for a larger range of potential readers than a more intimidatingly long volume might. One small problem is that since the book consists of a collection of relatively short essays often dealing with similar or parallel topics, there is a fair amount of repetition of arguments. For example, the same general (and accurate) criticisms of postmodernism sometimes appear in one form or another in essay after essay.

        Zerzan’s forte has been the persistent raising of basic questions which have expanded the realm of radical investigation and critique into areas heretofore too often avoided, marginalized or ignored.

Zerzan’s forte has been the persistent raising of basic questions which have expanded the realm of radical investigation and critique into areas heretofore too often avoided, marginalized or ignored. Even, or maybe especially, for those who disagree with his overall speculations and conclusions, this has led to a widening of awareness of the deep roots and pervasive extent of our contemporary predicament. This alone makes John Zerzan’s a highly important voice to be reckoned with by all radicals who are serious about exploring the full extent of what is needed for the abolition of capitalism, the state and the other forms taken by social alienation and enslavement. However, this valuable expansion of investigation and critique has from the beginning been accompanied by often seemingly reified or even Manicheaen conceptions of the origins of human alienation. Following publication of Fredy Perlman’s seminal critique of civilization in Against His-Story, Against Leviathan, Zerzan indicted agriculture, language, art and number as centrally complicit in the origin and development of civilization. And since then, he has continued to focus his critiques more and more tightly on division of labor and the whole range of symbolic culture as the generative principles of human social and natural alienation.

Central to many of Zerzan’s arguments is a scorched earth attitude in which just about any particular aspect of life which has been colonized to any significant degree by capital, state, technology or ideology is deemed to be not accidentally, but essentially complicit with the domination and alienation of techno-industrial civilization and, thus, to be in need of complete removal. No nuanced analyses or shades of gray are allowed. Everything is simply black and white, and you’re either for (his vision of ) life or against it. In many essays, an army of quotations and notes from an array of writers and texts (some revealingly relevant, but others at times rather irrelevant) are marshaled to the particular task at hand of critically destroying whichever aspect of life is targeted this particular time (the essays on the origins of civilization in Elements of Refusal on agriculture, language, art and number are paradigmatic here). If he was a physician, Zerzan’s diagnosis would appear to always be the same, complete corruption, with amputation of the offending body part the only solution ever offered.

Twilight of the Machines opens with “Too Marvelous for Words,” contrasting language as “a powerful instrument for technological and social disenchantment” with the alternative of direct, unmediated presence (though he never explains what it could possibly mean for unmediated presence to be – self-contradictorily – “enchanted”). For Zerzan, it seems, everything about language (and symbolization in general) is bad news and not just unnecessary, but even (at least metaphorically) pathological. No attempt is made to chronicle any redeeming qualities of human communication through use of languages. Nor, does it seem, is there any possibility within his perspective for the existence of any worthwhile, freely-chosen, unalienated linguistic communication at all. Radical writers and theorists who might distinguish the ideological debasement of language from more convivial and authentic linguistic communication are simply ignored. In Zerzan’s view it is language itself which is inescapably ideological. At one point he argues that: “The grammar of every language is a theory of experience, and more than that, it’s an ideology.” (p.5) Beyond this, Zerzan repeatedly argues throughout the book that all use of language (and other forms of symbolic communication) is necessarily alienating. But somehow it must be possible to use grammar and language in at least relatively non-ideological ways, else why does Zerzan continue to speak and write his critiques rather than foregoing writing and speech for the more direct communication he advocates? And if Zerzan can make worthwhile use of language for liberatory purposes is there any reason why anyone else should not do the same, while leaving behind the self-contradictory, ideological weight of a dogmatic denunciation of all symbolic culture?

In “Patriarchy, Civilization and the Origins of Gender” Zerzan asks if patriarchy and civilization are “at base synonymous?” He argues that (the history of) “Civilization…is the history of the domination of nature and of women,” (p.11) leaving out the inescapable fact that civilization has always also included the domination of men. In fact, civilizations seem to have involved the progressive institutionalization of political, economic and social domination of anyone and everyone caught in their nets of control.

Inevitably, the critique of symbolic culture in itself as the prime cause and motor of human alienation will continue to be viewed skeptically by most radicals, since the development of alienation is more plausibly described and explained as a larger social process in which particular aspects of symbolic culture are progressively reified, enlarged and turned against the individual and society, just as aspects of every other sphere of human life are progressively reified and turned against us. The identification of a fundamental and seemingly prime cause of human alienation which can be potentially separated, isolated and demonized will inevitably appeal to some of those who prefer relatively easy answers to highly complex questions. But there is no evidence that symbolic culture in itself is necessarily a form of human alienation. However much symbolic culture may involve less direct and more abstract forms of interaction with the human and social world, these forms of interaction are never in themselves necessarily alienating. The systems of symbolization and highly complex forms taken by communication using these systems will certainly always be fraught with opportunities for the creation of ideological justifications and apologies for alienating human activities and relationships. But just as certainly, these same complex forms of symbolic communication can also be used to expose and subvert ideologies. They are not themselves simply and reductively identical with ideology.

Similarly, social alienation does not arise in every instance of the division of labor – at least not in every instance as long as the freely-chosen coordination and division of convivial tasks also falls under this label. (And if it doesn’t, where else is it being hidden in Zerzan’s writings?) There is never a problem if one person enjoys hunting and another leisurely gathers in order to share the fruits of their activities later. Nor is it a problem if one group of people in a community builds a house while another group gardens and others pursue different complex tasks they set for themselves in coordination with their families and friends. Rather it is the forced division of labor that always involves human social alienation. It is when people are enslaved, trapped in their activities, see no way out and eventually stop trying to escape from their prisons that they alienate their activities and lose sight of their original desires to live freely.

The important aspect of truth in Zerzan’s formulations is that as the various forms of human social activity and communication become more abstract, complex and distancing they become less and less likely to be freely desirable or communally sustainable absent self-alienation. The more elaborate and rigid that divisions of activities become, and the more intricately systematic their required symbolic and technological infrastructures, the more likely it will be that these divisions of labor and complex infrastructures will also require manipulation and, ultimately, force to maintain them. In this process their human participants begin to mimic the behavior of machines in order to fulfill their roles in an increasingly alienating division and coordination of tasks. And the more human beings reduce themselves to machinelike activities, the more likely they will then be further forced to do so – rather than participating of their own genuinely free wills – in the ever-intensifying process of self-alienation and its accompaniments, forced labor and its ideologies.

Possibly most interesting in Twilight of the Machines, at least in relation to the general theme of the Modern Slavery journal project, is Zerzan’s essay on “Globalization and its Apologists: An Abolitionist Perspective.” Here he explicitly aims his anarcho-primitivist critique at “our century’s version of slavery.” He plausibly identifies the rise and spread of domestication with the rise and spread of civilization. And he definitely understands that (in his terminology) “globalization” – understood as the latest stage of domestication and civilization – is so overwhelmingly parasitic on our lives that it is now threatening to overwhelm and destroy its hosts. But he is nowhere able to focus on the process of self-alienation itself as the target for abolition, rather than the particular places it happens to inhabit.

In any case, it is abundantly clear that modern divisions of labor, technological systems and their mass consumer cultures have long passed the point of no return for potential desirability or sustainability in any humanly free and consenting ways.

Review by Jason McQuinn

Strangers in an Alien World

Some thoughts on being an anarchist at the beginning of the 21st century

A serialized book-in-progress by Wolfi Landstreicher

Introduction

“…we are alone, with an entire world ranged against us.
-Andrea Dorea

I have been an anarchist for well over thirty years now. For me this has never been an identity to which to cling, a label to give me a sense of belonging. It has rather been an ongoing challenge to face my life in a particular way, constantly raising the
question of what it means to reject every form of domination and exploitation in my life on a practical level. This is not a simple question with easy answers, but a problem that I have to wrestle with constantly, because I am facing a world here and
now in which domination and exploitation define social relationships, in which most individuals are dispossessed of every possibility of determining their own existence, alienated from the creative energy through which such a project could be
realized. As an anarchist, I have made a decision to reject and fight against this world. This makes me a deserter, an outsider, indeed, a stranger in an alien world. Obviously, this is not an easy choice. Several years ago I wrote: “I am not a peaceful man, a man content and willing to accept the will of the gods No, I am a man at war – with the world and with society, indeed, but also with myself and those I love the most.” And I think that this is inevitably true for any anarchist who is sincere in her desire to live her refusal of the impositions of the ruling order. To overcome the isolation of this refusal it is necessary to seek accomplices with whom to steal back the creative energy with which we can build our lives together on our own terms and with whom to use that energy to destroy the alien world that the ruling order imposes on us. I wrestle constantly with the question of how to go about living in this way and carrying on this project with joy. The thoughts that follow stem from this questioning.

     As an anarchist, I have made a decision to reject and fight against this world. This makes me a deserter, an outsider, indeed, a stranger in an alien world…. To overcome the isolation of this refusal it is necessary to seek accomplices with whom to steal back the creative energy with which we can build our lives together on our own terms and with whom to use that energy to destroy the alien world that the ruling order imposes on us.

If I refer mainly to anarchists in speaking of the projects I pursue, it is because I am an anarchist and choose to carry out my projects in a certain way because of this. At the same time, I am quite aware that complicity cannot be limited to anarchists. There are those who hate the habitual, unthinking daily activities, relationships and roles that make up this society and that by their nearly universal unconscious acceptance are imposed on all of us, but who do not express this through revolutionary or anarchist ideas. Nonetheless, they act against this society in their lives, and they are also potential accomplices. In fact, only by being open to such relationships can we anarchists break out of the ghettos in which we so easily lose ourselves. So I am addressing these thoughts mainly to anarchists, but also to anyone who despises the enslaving impositions of this society. » Read more..

American Uprising: The untold story of America’s largest slave revolt

American Uprising: The untold story of America’s Largest Slave Revolt by Daniel Rasmussen

Review by Paul Z. Simons

      American Uprising: The Untold Story of America’s Largest Slave Revolt by Daniel Rasmussen (Perennial Books, New York, 2011). 276 pp., $26.99 hardcover/$15.99 paper.

So to keep the rhetoric and material in Modern Slavery alive with tales of slave revolts and insurrections, I inadvertently picked this book up while on my way through some airport, somewhere. After looking at the young face of the author, and reading that his alma mater was Harvard, and that he had received a number of prizes during his years there, my worries grew; surely this couldn’t be a book that demonizes slaves for revolt? Harvard is a primitive place – but could it have reverted even deeper into the muck of ruling class snobbery, inbred genetic mutation, and bad nicknames? Finally I relented and bought the damn thing – what the hell, its better than watching the movie on the plane.

Dangerous Cargo
The author begins by focusing on the night of Epiphany, January 6, 1811, and details the extravagant balls, meals and gambling of the local white slave owning gentry who lived in or near New Orleans. Epiphany of course being the kickoff for the entire Carnival season that culminates annually in the liver-ossifying orgy of Mardi Gras. Simultaneously, as the masters were celebrating, he describes the revelry of the local slaves gathered on the Commons in the city. Perhaps as many as 500-600 individuals all told were present, and they danced in large circular formations, drank local fermented products, crowned a king for the event, even as the local gentry crowned their own Rex for Mardi Gras; and also plotted to pull the whole economic and political superstructure down by armed rebellion.

        The real touchstone for the revolt, as it was for John Brown, was the success of the Haitian Revolution in 1803, which, as noted elsewhere freed the slaves, granted independence to the island nation, and as if to put paid to the whole deal banned all French citizens from Haiti – forever.

The planters were men who had abandoned Enlightenment era France for the possibility of huge profit and reward as a result of hacking some kind of living out of the wilderness. Sugar, as it turns out, was the right crop for the areas directly west of New Orleans, that ran along the northern banks of the Mississippi River. This area, named the “German Coast,” was famous for its heat, humidity, snakes, swamps, and many planters justified the use of African slaves as a result of this harsh environment. The transport of slaves to the United States was outlawed in 1808, but it is estimated that in the forty years prior the passage of the law proscribing importation of slaves that as many as 24,000 Africans were disembarked in New Orleans. The mortality rates of the slave trade are staggering. Forty percent of those captured never even made it to the west coast of Africa for transportation, ten percent perished during the Middle Passage, and only about a third would survive through the first four years in the New World. There is another side to this, though, and it shouldn’t be overlooked, many of those transported and who survived were some very tough customers indeed. The two slaves most associated with the German Coast Revolt are Kook and Quamana. The names suggest that the men were Akan, an African empire at the height of its power in the late eighteenth century; essentially a military union of a number of different tribes. The Akan controlled significant tracts of land throughout modern Nigeria, Benin, Togo, and Ghana. Many of the Akan slaves brought to the US were common soldiers who had been trained to make up the impressively large armies that African nations at that time fielded in warfare. It is likely, therefore that Kook and Quamana at least knew how to use weapons, and very probably had been trained to fight, even if they had never gone into battle. » Read more..

MS #2 Contributors

Karen Goaman has a PhD in Anthropology, University College London. She has written numerous articles in anthologies (2009, Jun & Wahl eds., New Perspectives on Anarchism; 2008, Roca Martínez ed., Anarquismo y Antropología; 2004, Purkis & Bowen eds., Changing Anarchism; 1997, Purkis & Bowen, Towards a 21st Century Anarchism) and in Anarchist Studies. She has worked as a Senior Editor in book publishing and as a part-time Lecturer in Communications at London Metropolitan University.

James Koehnline is a Seattle-based artist and library worker, long-time member of Autonomedia publishing collective and contributor to Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed and other radical publications. Online gallery at:
http://james119.deviantart.com/

Wolfi Landstreicher is a long-time anarchist and egoist, the author of the book Willful Disobedience from Ardent Press, publisher of the egoist anarchist bulletin, My Own, pamphleteer through his project Intellectual Vagabond Editions, translator (Italian and German, with occasional forays into French) and contributor to Anarchy, A Journal of Desire Armed, as well as Modern Slavery.

Bruno Massé is an environmental activist devoted to the anti-civilisation critique. As a fiction writer, he has published several works of horror, cyberpunk and erotica in French and English. He is a member of the Anarchist Writers Bloc and performs annually at the International Anarchist Theatre Festival of Montréal.
www.brunomasse.com  http://www.daemonflower.com/?lang=fr

Jason McQuinn, the juggling anarchist, is a founder and was a long-time editor of Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed from 1980 to 2006; as well as the founder and editor of Alternative Press Review and North American Anarchist Review while they were published, and now of the Modern Slavery journal.

Ron Sakolsky is a rainforest renegade whose recent books include Creating Anarchy (Fifth Estate,2005), Swift Winds (Eberhardt, 2009), and Scratching The Tiger’s Belly (Eberhardt, 2012); all meant as fleeting signposts illuminating a myriad array of marvelous adventures, disconcerting pitfalls, and dead ends on the constantly unfolding road from mutual acquiescence to mutual aid.

Paul Z. Simons was born May 3, 1960 – Salt Lake City – to an unwed mother, an act under Utah state law that made both he and his mother subject to arrest and fine or imprisonment. In his words, “I was born fighting against the law, I live that way and I’ll probably die that way.” An anarchist and Buddhist he has consistently staked out positions that motivate towards contestation with the authoritarian structure that currently labels itself Capital and society. He has written a number of widely read pieces including “Seven Theses on Play,” “Keep Your Powder Dry,” a chapter in Gone to Croatan, and the Afterword for John Zerzan’s Elements of Refusal.  Finally he says, “My proudest moment was participating in the Tompkins Square riot. I found out what freedom and democracy were made of – in an instant.” Simons lives, works, and writes in LA.

Maurice Spira was born in Kent, England in 1944. After four years of quite traditional studies at a provincial art school, and a stint in advertising in London, he left in 1966 for the “new world.” In the ensuing years 1966-74, the psychoactively enriched counter-cultural milieu in Montréal transformed him utterly. Then, after travelling and painting in Mexico during the mid-seventies, he settled in Vancouver. By the early ’80s, requiring a breath of fresh air, Spira vacated the metropolis for a somewhat more rural existence on the Sunshine Coast. More than two decades later, he continues to paint and print in his Roberts Creek studio, while still finding time to grow excellent red cabbages and spuds.

Lawrence S. Stepelevich is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Villanova University. He served as President of The Hegel Society of America and, from 1977 to 1996, was the executive Editor of the Journal of that Society, The Owl of Minerva.

Joseph Winogrond (BA New School, MLitt Ethnology Aberdeen) studied at the University of Wisconsin under Walter R. Agard, Paul MacKendrick, Herbert M. Howe, Herbert S. Lewis and others in the classics and anthropology. After a “Flower Raj” year with the Tibetans at Benares he transferred to the New School where Stanley Diamond was teaching. In 1967 he was co-partner of the Liberation News Service, the New York wire service operated out of its basement offices on Claremont Avenue for more than 400 disparate 1960s underground newspapers. He is presently assembling a pre-market-economy dictionary of northern Europe, Wild English.

Egoism versus modernity: John Welsh’s dialectical Stirner

A review of Max Stirner’s Dialectical Egoism by Wolfi Landstreicher

Max Stirner’s Dialectical Egoism: A New Interpretation by John F. Welsh (Lexington Books, Lanham, MD, 2010). 293 pp., $85.00 hardcover / $34.95 paper.

Since its publication in 1844, Max Stirner’s book Der Einzige und Sein Eigentum (entitled The Ego and Its (or His) Own in the currently available English editions1) has rarely been dealt with on its own terms. When not simply suppressed, it has been misrepresented or used as a foil to promote agendas foreign to it. Alfredo Bonanno described it well in his book Max Stirner when he says, “The first duty toward Stirner: incomprehension.” Certainly, the few books written about Stirner and his ideas in English in the past century have reflected this lack of even a minimal understanding of what Stirner was doing. This is what makes John F. Welsh’s book distinctive.

I consider much of the “incomprehension” in the face of Stirner’s book to be a choice made by his various critics and commentators. It is true that Stirner’s thinking is difficult, but not in the sense of being hard to understand – and in his masterwork, Stirner presents it in a clear, even blunt, language. Rather its difficulty lies in the fact that it removes every abstract ground of certainty from beneath our feet, leaving us to rely only on ourselves. This is why he begins and ends the book with the cry: “I have set my cause upon nothing.”2 And very few want to face this prospect of total self-responsibility. Welsh seems to be one of those few, and this makes his book worth reading. Unlike all of Stirner’s critics whose works I have been able to read and most of his defenders as well, Welsh comes to Stirner with no obvious preconceptions about what Stirner was saying. Instead he attempts to understand what Stirner’s project actually was and how it might be useful to us now. The flaws in Welsh’s understanding relate to the most difficult aspects of Stirner’s thinking, his attempts to use language to point to the inconceivable, the unspeakable unique, and to the equally non-conceptual union of egoists. I will go into this more later. » Read more..